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96                                                                                                            B. POLEVOI
melted a light vapour rose near the bear's head. The beast
was dead.                                       .111         11
The tension under which Alexei had been labouring
suddenly relaxed. Again he felt the sharp, burning pain in
his feet. Falling back on the snow, he lost consciousness.
He came to when the sun was already high in the sky.
Its rays, penetrating the thick pine tops, lit up the snow
with glittering light. The snow in the shade was no longer
a pale, but a deep blue.
"Did I dream about the bear?" was the first thought
that entered Alexei's mind.
The brown, shaggy, unkempt carcass lay near by on
the blue snow. The forest rang with sounds. The wood-
pecker resonantly tapped the bark; the swift, yellow-
breasted tomtits chirped merrily as they skipped from
branch to branch.
"I'm alive, alive, alive!" Alexei repeated to himself.
And his whole being, his whole body, exulted as he be-
came conscious of the mighty, magic, intoxicating sensa-
tion of being alive that overcomes a man every time he
has passed through mortal danger.
Prompted by this mighty sensation he sprang to his
feet, only to collapse upon the carcass of the bear with a
groan. His head filled with a dull, rumbling noise, as if a
couple of old, rough grindstones were turning and grind-
ing and causing tremors in his brain. His eyes ached as
if somebody were pressing them with his fingers. At one
moment everything round him looked distinct and clear,
flooded with the cold, yellow light of the sun's rays; at
another moment everything vanished behind a grey,
sparkling veil.
'Too bad. I must have got concussion when I fell. And
something's jwrong with my feet," thought Alexei.
Raising himself on his elbow he looked with surprise
at the broad field beyond the edge of the forest and
bordered on the horizon by the grey semi-circle of the
distant forest.
Evidently, in the autumn, or more probably in the
early winter, the fringe of this forest had been a defence
line which a Soviet Army unit had held, not for long
perhaps, but stubbornly, unto death. Blizzards had covered
up the earth's wounds with a layer of snowy cotton wool;